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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Attention Is Not Enough


The human ability to generalize beyond interpolation, often called extrapolation or symbol-binding, is challenging to recreate with computational models. Biologically plausible models incorporating indirection mechanisms have demonstrated strong performance in this regard. Deep learning approaches such as Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM) and Transformers have shown varying degrees of success, but recent work has suggested that Transformers are capable of extrapolation as well. We evaluate the capabilities of the above approaches on a series of increasingly complex sentence-processing tasks to infer the capacity of each individual architecture to extrapolate sentential roles across novel word fillers. We confirm that the Transformer does possess superior abstraction capabilities compared to LSTM. However, what it does not possess is extrapolation capabilities, as evidenced by clear performance disparities on novel filler tasks as compared to working memory-based indirection models.

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